Yes, it’s true, Christmas is upon us yet again. A time of fluffy white snow, happy children, beautifully wrapped gifts and exceedingly large meals. Or, if you’re a cat owner, a time of missing ornaments, broken baubles, toppled trees, and shredded wrapping paper. The antics of the family cat can be a welcome distraction when the discussion gets a bit too heated around the dinner table, but just as cats enjoy all the new toys there could be some hidden dangers too. Here are some things to think about this holiday season.
The Christmas tree
- “What could be better?” says the cat. “The joys of the outdoors in the warmth of my living room!” Christmas trees are a cat’s dream come true. Many cats, especially kittens, find climbing the tree irresistible and will stop at nothing to try to make it to the top. You can try all sorts of deterrents, including aluminium foil around the base (cats hate walking on it) and keeping a water spray bottle close at hand, but it usually won’t stop them trying at least once. Many cats also hate the smell of oranges, so some people say keeping orange peels under the tree can help deter climbing. If your cat is particularly curious, you may simply have to lock them out of the room altogether.
- The ornaments are another endless source of feline entertainment. Make sure all expensive, fragile or potentially dangerous ornaments are placed at the top of the tree out of easy reach. This includes glass baubles, things that look like small furry creatures, and anything that has a string or ribbon on it. Make sure all wires and clips are attached tightly to the branch, and try not to have any ornaments that swing from side to side where the cat can see them.
- Where possible don’t provide your cat with a launching ramp (i.e. keep the tree away from the sofa or other furniture).
- Beware of electric cords and light bulbs, and watch your cat carefully to make sure they do not take a rather shocking interest in them.
Deck the halls, carefully!
- As mentioned above, any decoration that swings or is otherwise attractive to the cat should be placed out of reach or avoided altogether. Sharp, pointy decorations or those with small parts that could fall off should also be placed carefully.
- Ribbons and string can be fatal to cats, so if you must use either in your decoration or whilst wrapping presents, make sure it’s well out of their reach and clean it up immediately after use.
- The eating of pine needles should be discouraged whenever possible. Citronella, Tabasco sauce, or bitter apple spray can be used on the bottom branches to discourage chewing.
- Some plants including mistletoe, holly, lilies and poinsettias, are toxic to cats and cause serious problems if eaten so keep them out of reach or better yet, simply admire them in the homes of others. The same goes for fake snow – best to avoid it altogether.
- Make sure all human food is kept out of reach of your cat – they don’t need it and it could make them sick! But if you absolutely must share, be careful with what you give them to sample as some foods such as chocolate are toxic to cats. Never give cats (or dogs!) turkey bones as they could cause serious problems if eaten.
A joyful yet stressful time for all
- You aren’t the only one who dreads the arrival of the in-laws. Cats will not only pick up on your stress and act out accordingly, but can also be thrown off by all the extra activity in the house.
- Some cats will deal with this stress by displaying charming behaviours such as urinating on your carpet or guests’ luggage, scratching up the sofa, or becoming generally unpleasant and aggressive. Others may spend the whole time hiding under the bed or outdoors.
- To help ease your cat’s stress levels (and perhaps your own too!), try to spend a few moments with your cat alone each day and provide a quiet, calm area to which they can retreat if needed. Make sure food and water bowls are well stocked and easily accessible to even the most timid kitties. Calming pheromone sprays or plug-ins such as Feliway can be tried to help keep the peace.
- Remember, some cats are particularly prone to urinary tract problems (such as infection or even blockage) during times of stress and cold, so monitor your cat for frequent or difficult urination. They’re also more likely to pick up a case of the sniffles and go off their food, so ring your vet immediately if you have any concerns.
But aside from the dangers, Christmas can be a wonderful time to share with your cat. Some of your best photos will be of your cat interacting with the Christmas tree or popping their head out of a pile of wrapping paper. A few devoted owners even give their cats their own stocking to open on the big day. Do remember, however, that when buying your cat a gift, Murphy’s Law clearly states that the more expensive the gift the less interested they will be in it and the packaging is almost always more fun than the toy itself!
Many of the points above also apply to dogs. Also, you might want to take a look at the related blog published last Christmas entitled “The nightmare before Christmas” for more tips on keeping your pet safe at this time of year.
If you are worried about the health of your pets over Christmas, talk to your vet or use our Interactive Symptom Guide to check how urgent a problem may be.